Tag Archives: Over-Baturation

A Suicide Squad: Going Sane Review – The Harley Quinn Show

TITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLER:
Jim Lee, Riley Rossmo, Sean Galloway, Stephen Byrne, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Gamuncoli
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad #58Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Day Special #1
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
June 7, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Suicide Squad, Vol. 2 should really be called The Harley Quinn Show. The story doesn’t revolve around her, but she’s clearly the star. We even learn that one of the characters is a Harley fangirl. DC obviously knows what side its bread gets buttered on…

Our main story picks up from where The Black Vault left off, with General Zod and the vault being held in Belle Reeve Penitentiary. But the vault, a gateway into the Phantom Zone, is effecting everyone in the prison. It’s pushing them to the brink of insanity, enticing them to kill. But it’s having the opposite effect on Harley Quinn. Her sanity is restored. Thus she may be the only one capable of saving the world from Zod.

Oddly enough, several years ago there was a Batman story called “Going Sane” that shares a similar concept with this book. The Joker thinks Batman is dead, so his sanity recedes and he tries to live a normal life. It’s not a great story. But the whole sanity reversal thing has a little more depth to it than what we get here, which is essentially the flick of a light switch.

I actually don’t have a problem with how they handle the whole sanity/insanity turn. But whenever Suicide Squad gets too Harley heavy, I have the same reaction to when a Justice League story lays it on too thick with Batman. “Over-Baturation,” if you will. That’s how Going Sane left me feeling. A team story where a specific character has an arc is one thing. Laying it on too thick is another.

What puts it over the top is that the one-shot Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special is collected in this volume. I imagine they put it here, as opposed to Vol. 1, because the story goes with the whole going sane theme. It sees Harley trying to use her skills as a psychotherapist to redeem other supervillains, Most notably Man-Bat. It’s mostly fine on its own. But when paired with our main story, it’s too much Harley. To some, I’m sure that notion is blasphemous. I don’t care. Too much of anything is a drawback.

Going Sane is more or less a superpowered prison riot popcorn flick. I can get behind that. In a lot of ways, that’s what Suicide Squad should be. Aiding in the proceedings is that it’s all pencilled by Jim Lee. Thus, it’s got an added sense of epicness and gravitas. Lee, inkers Richard Friend and Sandra Hope, and colorist Jeremiah Skipper obviously make everybody look good. Harley in particular (see above). Skipper gets to have some fun with the lighting at various points. Most of this takes place in Belle Reeve. But they shake the scenery up with red and yellow sunlight generators, the purple glow that surrounds the Black Vault, the power going out, etc.

I can’t recall seeing Lee draw Man-Bat prior to the April Fool’s one-shot. But he makes him every bit as detail-rich and monstrous as you’d expect. We also see Batman, Joker, and the Justice League in that issue, bringing back plenty of memories from Hush and Justice League: Origin. Lee’s frequent collaborator Alex Sinclair colors that story, which ups the nostalgia factor in that regard.

One thing I still don’t understand: Why did Zod have to be so damn huge? They explained it by saying it had to do with how he came out of the Black Vaullt. At one point they have him clamped down on this giant contraption like he’s Doomsday or Bane. Later, he nearly crushes Captain Boomerang by simply falling on him. Was this an artistic choice so he’d look more imposing? I suppose it fits with the tone of the book. But you know what’s really imposing? A guy who can bend steel with his fists and melt flesh with heat vision. Take that into account, and it doesn’t really matter how tall you are, does it?

Also, Killer Croc and June Moon (Enchantress) apparently have sex in this book (shown above). So, there’s that. Their romance is actually a nice little addition to the book. In issue #5, Croc has what I would guess is his most romantic line ever: “I…want to eat everyone. I don’t want to eat you.” But much like with Hulk and Viv Vision, I can’t help getting caught up in the physical “mechanics” of it all. How does it even work? Do I even want to know? Probably not.

As was the case in Vol. 1, we get a bunch of character-centric back-up stories. This time we focus on a new character called Hack, as well as Killer Croc, and Enchantress. We also get a look at Killer Frost in preparation for Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

The best of the bunch is the Killer Croc story, pencilled by Carlos D’Anda (shown below). We see Waylon Jones as a vulnerable young boy with a tragic skin condition. Rob Williams plays the sympathy card with Croc, as we often see with other Batman villains. But it’s as effective as always, especially with the big expressive eyes D’Anda gives Waylon.

Hack, a young woman who can transform herself into digital data, found herself inspired by Harley Quinn as she grew up impoverished in Africa. Like Harley with the Joker, Hack’s choice of role model was to her own detriment. The backup, illustrated by Stephen Byrne, is fine. Hack is intriguing, and as this book illustrates, her powers open up some interesting doors. But if you’ve read ahead, you know Suicide Squad doesn’t necessarily use her to her fullest potential.

The series loses a little bit of its momentum here. But Harley Quinn fans and comic art buffs will find something in Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Going Sane. It’s not a creative highlight, but it’s at least worth a glance.

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A Superman #6 Review – Like Father, Like Son

Superman #6, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #6
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason. Cover by Doug Mahnke.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a page in Superman #6 that I absolutely adore (shown below). It’s a callback to the cover of the original Superman #6 from 1939, with our hero striking the classic hands-on-hips pose. We’ve even got the American flag in the background for good measure. I will neither confirm nor deny swooning upon seeing that page for the first time.

For yours truly, the best Superman writers and artists don’t shy away from the character’s status as a symbol for hope and idealism. They don’t try to modernize him, or God forbid darken him. They embrace who and what he is, which naturally leads to good storytelling. That’s mostly what we’ve gotten from Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and team on Superman these last few months. No more stupid armor, no more bare-knuckle fighting. Just Superman doing what Superman does. We didn’t need to give him a son to create good stories. It just so happens that parenting brings out the best in Big Blue.

Superman continues to battle the Eradicator in a bunker on the moon, as Lois and Jon look on. The Eradicator, who holds the life force of so many deceased Kryptonians within him, is determined to kill the half-human Jon and “purify” the House of El. But as the Man of Steel tirelessly fights to save his family, Earth may come to a shocking realization: One way or another, Superman is back.

Superman #6, callback, Patrick GleasonThe Superman books are in a complex spot right now. We’ve got the pre-New 52 Superman, Lois Lane, and their son Jon as our lead characters in Superman. Then we’ve got a Clark Kent doppleganger in Action Comics, and the New 52 Lois over in Superwoman. But as complex as things have become, most of the books have surged upward in terms of quality. Look no further than this book as an example. This is the best Superman has been in at least five years.

One of the keys to that is this book’s heart. It’s not afraid to be a little sappy as it shows us the love shared by the Kent family. It’s also not afraid of embracing some of the corny, but feel-good and classic elements of the Superman legend. Not just the pose and the American flag, but the glasses, the superpowered dog, the adoration of Metropolis. The issue also bucks the isolated, lonely, brooding Superman trope we’re often subjected to. In one glorious, yet understated panel, Superman looks up at the reader and says: “I’ve never felt alone.”

Can I get an amen?

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately about DC restoring hope and positivity to its books and movies. The DC Universe’s first stop for both those things should be Superman. For some, that’s a turn off, which is fair enough. But if you’re looking for the brooding, isolated superhero, they’ve got a guy for that. Actually, they’ve got a few guys for that. So lets stop trying to make this character something he’s not. These attempts to darken Superman always end up fizzling out anyway.

Superman #6, 2016I understand the notion of comics not being for kids anymore. But I’d be curious to see what would happen if I gave these Superman issues to a young reader. If they kept coming back, would it be for Superman? Would it be for Jon? Perhaps both? Either way, Jon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As indicated by the end of this issue, he’ll have an even bigger role going forward. And for the time being at least, that’s a good thing.

We bordered on the edge of Over-Baturation in this story with the climactic battle taking place in Batman’s moon bunker (Yeah, he has one. Don’t you?), and the inclusion of the Hellbat, a carry over from Tomasi and Gleason’s run on Batman & Robin. But I’m giving this book a pass, as we see very little of Batman himself. It’s even established that Superman followed the Dark Knight without him knowing, which was a nice touch. Also, Lois using the Hellcat to protect Jon managed to be pretty cool.

This is an exciting time to be a Superman fan. Given the relaunch, Superman has more readers now than in quite awhile, and DC is making the most of those new eyes. Quite honestly, there’s no one I’d rather see on this title right now than Tomasi, Gleason, and their crew. I’m hopeful they’re only beginning to take flight.

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A Superman: American Alien #5 Review – The Wrong Cape!

Superman: American Alien #5, Ryan SookTITLE: Superman: American Alien #5
AUTHOR: Max Landis
PENCILLER: Francis Manapul. Cover by Ryan Sook.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: March 16, 2016

***Need a refresher? Head back to the beginning with Superman: American Alien #5.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s something about this issue that drives me absolutely nuts. We saw it on the final page of last issue, but it’s plastered all over this one. That’s a damn shame, because in almost every other respect this issue is damn good.

Now an intern at The Daily Planet, Clark Kent is still trying to find his place in the world. For six months, a mysterious “Flying Man” has been a super-powered good samaritan for Metropolis. As Clark’s fellow intern Lois Lane ponders the hero’s motivations, The Parasite makes his first appearance. Now, the Flying Man has no choice but to start communicating not only with the police, but with Lex Luthor…

I understand I may be hung up about this, but it drives me absolutely insane: Clark Kent is wearing Batman’s cape. I talked about this at length last time, but it bears repeating. To me, Superman and Batman have always represented two sides of the same coin. Light and darkness, hope and cynicism, etc. Superman drawing inspiration from Batman implies the latter has a certain wisdom and seniority the former doesn’t, which inherently positions the Dark Knight above the Man of Steel. As a fan, that offends me. Once again, we see Batman is far too central to so much in the DC Universe. It’s what I call “Over-Baturation.”

Superman: American Alien #5, title pageWhat’s more, it ruins a really charming costume. The black “S” shirt and jeans are reminiscent of Superboy’s old look. And the old school pilot headgear has a nice quirkiness to it. The outfit makes sense for a Superman who hasn’t found himself yet, and has simply thrown something together to start his mission. The dark colors also have a cool factor befitting a young adult trying to impress people.

Traditionally, The Parasite isn’t portrayed as a giant. But that’s how we see him in this issue. It suits Landis’ purposes well, and not surprisingly, Francis Manapul is really able to run with it. The explosive moments between Clark and Parasite are really well done, particularly the page when our hero simply grabs the giant by the foot and pulls him through the roof of a building. It’s a tribute to how well-rounded Manapul’s work is that he’s able to pull off both the action sequences, and the more intimate one-on-one scenes between Clark and Lois, with equal amount of finesse. And look at those colors. Wow.

Clark spends much of the issue with Lois Lane. But we also get our first meeting between Clark and Lex Luthor. Like Batman, Luthor is very much the yin to Superman’s yang, but obviously in a different way. So it’s fitting that as Clark is just starting out as a hero, he’s learning from both friends and enemies. We’re seeing portions of Superman’s philosophy and modus operandi molded before our eyes, and it’s true to the essence of the character.

Superman: American Alien #5, Francis ManapulThe exchanges between Clark and Lois are the strongest I’ve seen in awhile. Landis gives them a nice chemistry that has a certain modern vibe without coming off as obnoxious. I imagine that’s what a lot of fans are looking to Max Landis for. He’s made it clear he’s passionate about Superman, and he obviously has his share of ideas. Now he has an outlet for some of them, and at times they’ve been very refreshing.

Portions of American Alien have been extremely annoying. But I can’t deny it’s been a worthwhile read thus far. Landis’ heart is in the right place. I get the sense he understands Superman in a way that few writers do. In that sense, when you open one of these issues, the battle is already half won.

Image 1 from gamespot.com. Image 2 from author’s collection.

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A Superman: American Alien #4 Review – Playing the Batman Card

Superman: American Alien #4, 2016TITLE: Superman: American Alien #4
AUTHOR: Max Landis
PENCILLER: Jae Lee. Cover by Ryan Sook.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 18, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Superman: American Alien #4.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ugh. Max Landis, you were doing so well. I’d never have pegged such a good writer who cares so much about Superman to make such a textbook mistake.

You played the Batman card. Hell, you even played the Dick Grayson card! Not to mention the Oliver Queen card! What the hell, bro?

Shortly after moving to Metropolis, Clark Kent wins a student essay contest run by The Daily Planet. As such, he gets to attend the Cerberus Summit, a meeting of the three most important young businessmen in America: Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, and Bruce Wayne. During his time at the summit, Clark gets some quality time with both Queen and Luthor. But he also gets to interview Bruce Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson. This garners the attention of a certain Dark Knight Detective.

Superman: American Alien #4, Batman capeI think I get what Landis was trying to do with Batman here. He was making a point about how Superman and Batman coexist in the same universe, and that Batman wouldn’t always have the upper hand in a fight. I appreciate that mindset. But frankly, I resent Batman’s shadow being cast over half of this issue, when this is supposed to be “an important juncture” in Clark’s development as a person.

On the last page, Clark even tries on Batman’s cape, with the caption reading “…do something big.” As a Superman fan, I find the notion that Batman helped inspire Clark to be a hero as the light to contrast his darkness to be offensive. And for the record, I love Batman as much as anybody. But it would be just as ridiculous the other way around. Picture a scene where Bruce Wayne somehow beats up a young Superman, then tries on his cape and an idea is sparked. Again, we go back to the idea of the DC Universe becoming “Over-Baturated,” with Batman being central to so many crucial events in this universe.

I’m tempted to think this might have been an editorial mandate, what with Batman v Superman coming out next month. But Landis did pitch a gratuitous Batman element in what would have been his Death of Superman story. Following Superman’s fight with Doomsday, Landis would have had Clark spend an extended period of time learning how to fight, courtesy of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. That was needless and disappointing, just like the Batman stuff here is needless and disappointing. Especially coming from Landis, who’s proven he can do so much better.

Lex Luthor, Superman: American Alien #4Less offensive are the appearances of Oliver Queen and Lex Luthor. Mind you, an early Superman/Green Arrow meeting still feels like something we’d see on Smallville. But given what happened with Batman, it’s tough to be cranky about this. Frankly, had Ollie and Lex been our only guest stars, the issue might have been just fine. Landis contrasts the perspectives of the two characters nicely, giving a young Clark something to think about. Queen sees himself as a spoiled rich kid given a chance to use his resources for good, while Lex predictably has a messiah complex. Lois Lane is also in this issue simply to foreshadow, which is something of a waste.

I stand by what I’ve said about Jae Lee being an ill-fit for Superman, his Art Deco-ish style being much more suited for Batman. Still, good art is good art. Lee draws a nice Lex Luthor here, fittingly in a dark and shadowy style typical of Lee. And while Dick Grayson is completely out of place in this story, Lee gives him a nice wisdom beyond his years. Our introduction to Lois Lane is also cool, with her figure drawn in front enlarged text.

Superman: American Alien #4 is a surprising letdown, considering what’s come before has been mostly good. I maintain that Max Landis is a great writer. He went on record saying this issue was supposed to make us think. Sadly, I wasn’t exactly thinking good things…

Image 1 from author’s collection. Image 2 from dangermart.blogspot.com.

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A Justice League of America #6 Review – Batman Survives…?

Justice League of America #6, Bryan HitchTITLE: Justice League of America #6
AUTHOR/PENCILLER: Bryan Hitch
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 23, 2015

***Go all the way back to the beginning with our review of Justice League of America #1.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m starting to get worried about this book. It’s been plagued by delays, to the point that they had to plug different creators into issue #5 and make it a filler issue. Needless to say that’s frustrating, especially when you consider Hitch has put together the best Justice League book on the stands.

With his true nature revealed, Rao goes one-on-one with Superman, and the Man of Steel has more than met his match. And things don’t look so good for Wonder Woman or Aquaman either. Meanwhile, Green Lantern and The Flash remain trapped in the past, searching for answers about what’s happening in their time.

So here’s my question: What does this have to do with Batman? The Dark Knight is the only Leaguer vertical on the cover, having apparently been the last man standing in a battle of sorts. But no such battle takes place in the issue, and Batman doesn’t even appear. So while the issue itself is more than fine, there’s a disconnect with the cover from the get-go.

IMG_1316The confrontation between Superman and Rao in this issue is brief, punctuated by the Man of Steel being sent flying across the arctic with a single punch. Hitch goes as far as to give us a two-page spread of his landing, which creates a massive crater. It’s arguable whether that much page space was merited for a moment like that. But it does create the epic/”wide screen” vibe Hitch is going for. And he gets a little more slack from me, considering this confrontation meant something. We’d been building up to it for four issues (we don’t count issue #5), and it adds to Rao’s credibility as a threat to the League. Interestingly, I remember Scott Snyder and Jim Lee doing a similar long-distance punch in Superman Unchained. But that fight wasn’t nearly as impressive as this one, as much of this series has been built around Rao. That wasn’t necessarily the case with…whatever the monster from that series was called.

Hitch remains very good at making it seem like all the Leaguers stand on equal footing, which is immensely refreshing in a company that overemphasizes Batman to death. Hell, intentional or not, they even did it with this cover! But regardless, Hitch is able to place the plot threats for Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and all the others on equal footing. That’s a sign of great writing.

Justice League of America #6, Wonder Woman, Bryan HitchThere’s something to be said about how religion is portrayed in this series. Obviously you have the Rao character performing miracles as his disciples seek to recruit new followers who are obviously being deceived. Then in this issue, Wonder Woman has some dialogue with the Oraculum on Olympus about being called a god that might make believers frown. These two lines in particular…

“I’ve never been comfortable with that. Being a god. Being somebody others would pray to. Would believe in.”

“Perhaps it is more important that you believe in yourself.”

I’m not sure if there are supposed to be real-world implications here or not. I’ve never been big on religious agendas, or agendas of any kind, in my comic books. But if it’s a good story, which doesn’t beat you over the head with whatever ideals the writer is conveying,  hat usually trumps any sort of distaste brought on by preachiness. What we’ve seen so far in JLA is good storytelling, so I’m once again inclined to be lenient with it.

While he’s got some stiff competition from Geoff Johns over in Justice League proper, Bryan Hitch has managed to put together the best JL book on the stands right now. It’s a book that truly feels worth of the League. In an interview earlier this year, Hitch called referred to his vision for this book as “an HBO series with an unlimited budget.” If you’re a DC fan and you’re not reading this book, you need to do some binge watching.

Image 1 from darkknightnews.com. Image 2 from author’s collection. 

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A Justice League of America #1 Review – The Team Comes Together

Justice League of America #1 (2015)TITLE: Justice League of America #1
AUTHOR/PENCILLER: Bryan Hitch
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: June 17, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah…yeah, this feels good. This feels right. This feels like a Justice League book!

Bryan Hitch’s extended love letter to the Justice League begins with Superman’s dead body. A whole PILE of dead Superman bodies, actually. The mysterious and elusive Infinity Corporation has been using the “Stones of Forever” to retrieve Superman’s corpse from the near future over and over again. The theme seems to be that once Superman dies, all is lost. A short time later, the League faces off the The Parasite. But how is The Parasite connected to the Infinity Corporation? And how is the Infinity Corporation connected to the massive revelation at the end of the issue?

Justice League of America #1, interiorThere’s a certain purity to this issue that I love. Geoff Johns’ run on Justice League has done much more right than it has wrong. But at times iit still falls victim to the trend of “over-Baturation,” i.e. overblowing the importance of Batman within the context of the League. There’s no over-Baturation in this issue. The story thus far is very Superman-centric, but that’s because the coming story largely deals with Superman’s mythology. And even then, we get the sense that no member of the League is more important than another. We’re not constantly being reminded how bad ass Batman is, or how many overblown constructs Green Lantern can create. I came away from this issue believing in the League as a team.

And wouldn’t you know it, they actually act like a team! They look out for each other during battle. We see Batman and Cyborg strategizing. They refer to one another by their first names (Which is weird in the context of a battle, but oh well.) They feel like a well oiled machine that’s been operating for over five years. That’s a vibe that Geoff Johns couldn’t create after Justice League: Origin, and one can argue he has trouble with it to this day. To Hitch it comes very natural. He creates an interesting sense of unseen history between the characters.

Justice League of America #1, Aquaman, United NationsWe also get a subplot where Aquaman talks to the UN about a trade agreement with Atlantis. We’re reminded that Atlantis is indeed the largest nation on Earth, and Aquaman assures them that Atlantean technology will not be used against the surface world. This is obviously a seed planted for later. But for the time being, it’s nice to see Aquaman getting some extra emphasis.

I can’t complain much about the art here. There is a panel about mid-issue where The Flash looks a little…stretchy. But that’s the biggest criticism I have here. Our opening scene is beautifully rendered, as we see Superman amidst the end of the world. The Parasite is also wonderfully drawn. In an interesting twist that I personally haven’t seen, Hitch renders him getting bigger as he gains more power. That’s a nice touch, and it really sells The Parasite as a menacing monster.

Justice League of America #1, The ParasiteWe’re only one issue into Hitch’s run. But as far as I’m concerned, Justice League of America is already as high a priority as Justice League, if not more so. My early impression is that this is a good book for longtime fans to pick up, as it restores some of that camaraderie among the League that’s synonymous with stories dating back to the Silver Age, and the very birth of the League. The fact that Hitch could inject that old school appeal into this book, while still staying true to the New 52 and modern continuity, is pretty damn cool to say the least.

Image 1 from fanboysinc.com. Image 2 and 3 from comicvine.com.

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